Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Electronic Skin Imitates Human Touch

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Researchers at Stanford University in California have developed electronic skin replicating the natural response of fingers, toes, or limbs to stimuli such as poking or scalding.

The ‘e-skin’ is a soft, flexible sensor with integrated circuits.Credit: Jiancheng Lai and Weichen Wang of Bao Research Group at Stanford University
The ‘e-skin’ is a soft, flexible sensor with integrated circuits.Credit: Jiancheng Lai and Weichen Wang of Bao Research Group at Stanford University

Electronic skin, also known as e-skin, is a flexible, thin, and stretchable electronic device that mimics human skin’s functionality and sensing capabilities. Developing e-skin faces challenges such as high sensitivity, durability, and conformability to human skin. Integration of power sources, wireless communication, and efficient data processing is crucial.

Researchers at Stanford University in California have created electronic skin capable of emulating the natural response of a finger, toe, or limb to stimuli like poking or scalding. The technology may enable touch-enabled prosthetic limb coverings or aid in restoring sensation for individuals with damaged skin.

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Sensitive skin

Mechanical receptors in living skin sense and transmit information to the brain through electrical pulses. Electronic skin requires flexible sensors and circuits, traditionally made of rigid semiconductors. Existing flexible systems operate at high voltages, posing safety risks for wearables. The team created a flexible polymer as a dielectric for soft e-skin. This enabled stretchy transistor arrays with high electrical performance, transforming rigid materials into soft ones. The sensor converts physical changes into electrical pulses. Additionally, the team developed a device that emulates synapses, transmitting electrical signals from nerves to muscles. In an experiment on a rat, the e-skin connected to the somatosensory cortex. Touch triggers an electrical signal sent to the brain and transmitted via the artificial synapse to the leg’s sciatic nerve, resulting in a twitch.

Future developments

The e-skin can be used in individuals with significant injuries or sensory disorders. The team envisions a less invasive approach, avoiding brain implants for amputees instead utilizing peripheral nervous system implants. The e-skin requires a wired connection to an external power source, but the team aims to create a wireless version. However, achieving a full-finger coverage skin with touch, temperature, and pressure response will demand extensive further development. The researchers find the closed-loop system connecting sensation to muscle movement “exciting.” The team’s device is a significant proof of concept, integrating various components in artificial prosthetics, which impresses Carnicer-Lombarte.

The researchers believe integrating diverse technologies into the thumb and little finger skin, targeting specific brain regions, enhances utility.

Reference : doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-023-01684-9

Nidhi Agarwal
Nidhi Agarwal
Nidhi Agarwal is a journalist at EFY. She is an Electronics and Communication Engineer with over five years of academic experience. Her expertise lies in working with development boards and IoT cloud. She enjoys writing as it enables her to share her knowledge and insights related to electronics, with like-minded techies.

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